Saudi Arabia has 13 cases of a new strain of coronavirus that has emerged from the Gulf, has killed seven people in the kingdom and spread as far as Britain and France, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
WHO experts and local officials will visit a Saudi hospital where the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)-like coronavirus has spread, killing seven people, the UN agency said on Wednesday.
The Kingdom has reported 23 confirmed cases in total, Qatar two, Jordan two, Britain two and the UAE one, the WHO said. Although there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human spread, there are concerns about clusters of cases.
The Saudi outbreak was restricted to al-Ahsa governorate in Eastern Province and all those infected had pre-existing health conditions, Arab News newspaper quoted Doctor Jafar al-Tawfiq, an infections specialist in Eastern Province, as saying.
Officials at Al-Moosa hospital in the town of Hofuf in Ahsa, where the patients are being treated, declined to comment.
WHO spokesman Glenn Thomas said in Geneva on Wednesday that Saudi authorities are organising a mission with two WHO staff and that their focus will be on Hofuf.
Saudi state news agency SPA quoted Deputy Health Minister Mansour al-Hawasi on Tuesday as saying the situation "called for no concern" and that the ministry had taken all precautions around anyone who had been in contact with those infected.
Worldwide, there have been 30 laboratory-confirmed infections, including 18 deaths, since it came to scientists' attention last September, said Thomas.
France reported its first case on Wednesday. The country's health ministry has identified its first case of a new strain of coronavirus emerging from the Middle East in a person recently returned from the UAE.
The ministry said it had opened an investigation into what it said was the first and only confirmed case of the virus in France and would hold a news conference later in the day.
"The person has been placed in isolation in an intensive care ward," the ministry said in a statement.
Other strains of coronavirus can cause common colds as well as SARS that emerged in Asia in 2003 and killed 775 people.
A retrospective study in Jordan found that there had been an outbreak of the new virus there as long ago as April 2012, with two confirmed cases and 11 probable ones, including 10 health care workers, the he added.-Reuters